Tag Archives: Byron Nelson Classic

Monday Morning Musings

Not that anyone asked, but . . .

Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw make a terrific course design team, and perhaps one year the proper conditions will prevail to make Dallas’s Trinity Forest an interesting challenge for PGA Tour players, but a foot of rain, no wind to speak of, and fairways so wide that Stevie Wonder would hit at least 60% of them made for an almost farcical Byron Nelson Classic. Hell, even Tony Romo looked respectable. I get the intention of the layout – ideally, 15 to 20 mph winds combined with fast and firm conditions over a bouncy track, and one can envision links-like conditions inland. But if there is one thing less predictable than the direction of a Phil Mickelson tee shot, it’s springtime Texas weather.

So for those participants who are traveling to Long Island to participate in the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, the only common denominator for them will be that a lot of rain is expected throughout the week. The Black’s fairways will be snaky thin, the rough thick and wet, and the bunkering diabolical. I’ll predict right now that no one will come within 10 shots of this past weekend’s 23-under total rung up by winner Sung Kang.

Kang, a South Korean national who lives in the Dallas suburb of Coppell (and who is not to be confused with the actor who appears in the Fast and Furious movie franchise), stated in a Saturday interview (that round was delayed by 6 hours due to the torrential downpours that have recently plagued North Texas) that unlike previous situations that found him at or near the top of the leaderboard, he planned on being much more relaxed. This approach seemed to carry over into his play, as he was often timed at around 90 seconds while preparing to take a shot. This fact was not lost on fellow competitor Matt Every, who contended for the lead for much of the weekend and who also managed an epic club throw after a poor bunker shot in the second round.

Hometown hero (and Trinity Forest member) Jordan Spieth once again failed to crack the top 20 and at this point would have to be considered the darkest of equines to make any noise at Bethpage. On the other hand, defending PGA Champion Brooks Koepka was rock solid, finishing three strokes behind Kang.


Meanwhile, there were numerous Tiger sightings in Long Island. His yacht is parked in Oyster Bay, and he’s already been seen getting in practice reps on the Black.

One can come up with any number of reasons for either favoring or disregarding The Big Cat’s chances:

  • PRO: He’s won there before.
  • CON: That was 17 years ago.
  • PRO: He’s rested.
  • CON: He’s rusty.
  • PRO: He drove it well at Augusta.
  • CON: The fairways at Bethpage are about a third in width as those at Augusta, and missing them is far more penal.
  • PRO: He won the Masters
  • CON: This field is at least twice as deep as that as Augusta

I actually think that points 3 and 4 may be the most telling. Woods mentioned being “sore” after his Masters victory. If “sore” simply means the normal wear and tear of hiking around the extremely hilly confines of Augusta National (and by the way, the Black has its own terrain challenges), then so be it. It did, however, seem a bit odd for Tiger to skip Quail Hollow, one of his favorite tracks. I suppose questions about his health are always going to be a concern going forward.

If not Tiger, then whom?

Conventional wisdom states that the Black should favor a bomber.

Hello, Dustin Johnson, Rory, Koepka, Jon Rahm, and as a dark horse, Gary Woodland.

But it’s going to be wet! Gotta keep it in the fairway!

Sergio (if the crowds don’t get to him), Zach Johnson, Louis Oosthuizen, Adam Scott, and another dark horse, Rory Sabbatini, come on down!

Experience counts!

In the PGA Championship, not so much. Although the Black has found its way into the Tour schedule as of late. And another dark horse, Lucas Glover (who won the US Open here in 2009 and has played better of late) emerges.

Who will the tough New Yaawk crowd get behind?

Lefty! Lefty! LEFTY! (nah, I can’t see it).

So . . . gun to my head pick?

Tell you on Wednesday.

Schedule Shenanigans (or How to Screw Over Dallas/Ft Worth Golf Fans)

The PGA Championship is a mere two and a half weeks away, thanks to the Tour’s decision to compress the 2019 schedule and move what used to be considered an afterthought of a major championship from August to May.

Part of the PGA Tour’s intent of this rescheduling was to wrap up the FedEx Cup proceedings prior to football being in full swing in hopes of those “playoff” events garnering more interest and perhaps higher television ratings. While I think that any gain in viewership may be marginal at best (August is a vacation month for many folks, anyway), I do like the “major championship each month” scenario, starting with the Masters in April and concluding with the Open Championship in July. And if one wants to press the point, having The Players Championship (who many have tried to push as a fifth major) pushed back to March extends that stretch nicely.

Compressing the schedule does have its disadvantages, however. One that is something of a head scratcher is the splitting of the Byron Nelson and Colonial tournaments, both longtime mainstays on the PGA Tour held in the DFW Metroplex. In the past, the tournaments were held on consecutive weekends, which oftentimes allowed players to bring their families along with them to make the short trek between the two venues.

Unfortunately, this won’t be the case this season. This weekend, the tour stops at Quail Hollow in North Carolina, then crosses over to Dallas to play the Byron at the logistically nightmarish more on that later) Trinity Forest links. Then it’s up to Long Island for the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black – then back to Ft Worth to play at Colonial.

I suppose driving all of this has been to 1) keep Quail Hollow in a favorable spot – most professionals consider it to be a good tune up going in a major – and 2) give some breathing space to Jack Nicklaus’s Memorial Tournament, which will be held the week after Colonial.

None of which does much good for the two DFW tournaments, at least not this year. I can’t think of a lot of players who will play both events; hell, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a significant number of players skipping both.

There was a time when both of the events were must plays. Fort Worth’s Colonial was one of three courses which has been dubbed “(Ben) Hogan’s Alley” (Riviera and Carnoustie being the other two), and has long been revered as a shot-maker’s track. In addition to its annual tour stop, Colonial has also hosted the 1941 US Open (won by Hogan), the 1975 Players Championship, and the 1991 Women’s US Open.

The Byron Nelson Classic was an outgrowth of the old Dallas Open, designed to honor the great contemporary of Hogan and Sam Snead. While the tournament had several venues over the years, the course with the longest tenure was TPC at the Four Seasons in Las Colinas, a section of Irving, TX. Much like Jack’s Memorial and Arnie’s Bay Hill Invitational, most golfers were sure to include “The Byron” on their itineraries, particularly when Nelson was still alive. A large statue of “Lord Byron” still stands near the first tee of TPC, an extensive display of his memorabilia is featured inside the clubhouse, and Nelson’s widow, Peggy, is still a presence at the club.

As a member there for about 5 years, I played both TPC and its members-only course, Cottonwood Valley, a lot and always had tickets for the Byron. I don’t think that the TPC itself was a particular favorite for the players, what with its awkward tee shots and approach angles, but it was a great for watching action both on and off the course, and being on a Four Seasons property with all of its amenities and having close proximity to DFW airport made it a popular place for tour players to bring the family (or, to use the parlance, “scout the local talent” if they came alone).

As one who was not exactly a gym rat but who tried to keep in reasonable golf shape, I always made it a point to work out in the club’s state of the art workout facility during Byron Week, as I would usually see (and sometimes chat up) some of the players going through their fitness regimen there. Workouts nearly came to a stop when Dustin Johnson’s partner, Paulina Gretzky, strolled in one day to discuss something with DJ.

[For a slightly biased comparison of the Byron at the TPC vs the Colonial, click here]

This changed when AT&T took over sponsorship of the Byron, as that corporation has a serious hand in a gentrification effort in southwest Dallas, as well as in a new golf course called Trinity Forest, whose name is something of a misnomer in that there is not a tree to be found on the Ben Crenshaw/Bill Coore links. The course itself is interesting, but getting there is a chore – it’s about an hour from the airport on a good day (and when one has to negotiate the Dallas Mixmaster, the odds of a good day are as likely as a Kardashian hiding from a camera), and shuttles are required to get golfers in and out of the grounds. And with no trees, it makes for a difficult spectator experience on a hot Texas day.

It would not be surprising to see the venue change again for the Byron, as the PGA of America is moving its headquarters to Frisco TX, a northern suburb of Dallas that is currently home base for Toyota and the Dallas Cowboys. Part of the development includes the construction of two 18 hole courses, one of which will undoubtedly be hosting a Ryder Cup (which is a PGA of America – as opposed to PGA Tour – property). Perhaps the Byron finds a new home there in the future.

In the meantime, the Dallas/Fort Worth area will be subject to the whims of the tour schedule makers. And an area that has traditionally been a robust PGA Tour bell weather gets the shaft.

Departures and Arrivals

Golf in the Olympics turned out to be surprisingly compelling. Justin Rose edged out Henrik Stenson on the men’s side, while In Bee Park, carrying the weight of a nation’s expectations, dominated the women’s competition. Moreover, Gil Hanse’s masterful course design not only delivered a marvelous canvas for the participants to display their skills, but also provided a low-maintenance track that could springboard golf participation in Brazil.

Or so we thought. Reports from several publications indicate that the Olympic Golf Course is dying a slow but inevitable death. Reasons cited are the high greens fees ($74 – $82 per round), resulting in very few rounds being played (on the bright side, no pace of play issues!) and the continued financial crisis is Brazil, which has resulted in the course’s maintenance crew not being paid for at least a couple of months.

A friend of mine pointed out that many Olympic venues become white elephants after the Games closing ceremonies (really, how much use would a cycling velodrome or kayaking course get post-Olympics?) and that one should have expected this outcome.  He’s probably correct, but unlike the other structures, a golf course has a life, and the good/great ones have a distinct character. Rio’s Olympic Golf Course has the latter in spades, what with its wide fairways, strategic bunkering, and seaside linksy qualities- in other words, the type of course that can be enjoyed by players of all skill levels.

It will be missed.

In the meantime, one of my home courses, TPC at the Four Seasons, will hold its final Byron Nelson Classic next year. This is only a mild surprise to us, as AT&T took over sponsorship a few years ago and announced its intention to move the tournament to a new Crenshaw-Coore design in a currently depressed area that is being gentrified (and in which AT&T has a vested interest) in 2019 The course has been announced ready to play; hence, the move date was bumped up by a year.

I’m of mixed emotions about this, as I think most members of courses who host a professional event would be. While there is a certain prestige of holding a tour event as well as an emphasis on course conditioning, there’s also some inconvenience involved, primarily loss of access to the facility (although in our case, we’re fortunate in being a  36 hole complex, so our members can continue to play).

And I’m not sure how the professionals will feel about the move. At one time, “The Byron” was a must play, particularly when Mr Nelson was still with us. Our course has hosted the event since 1983; the list of past winners is a veritable who’s who of golfing greats. In recent years, the field has been somewhat diluted due in part to a PGA Tour schedule change that moved the The Players Championship from March to May, occurring a week before “The Byron.” Many big name players choose to take off the week following The Players Championship.

As stated above, The Byron’s new venue, Trinity Forest Golf Club, is part of a redevelopment project in a somewhat depressed area of Dallas. The course was built on top of a landfill, and has a decidedly links-like feel. My guess is that the pros will enjoy the course, but will miss the convenience of the current site, which features a 4 star hotel on premises and easy access to both DFW and Love Field airports. And from a spectator’s standpoint, parking and transport in and out of The Four Seasons is pretty straightforward. Not so much for the new venue.

I won’t miss having cart-path only access to TPC for three months, nor will I miss the disruption of grandstand and concession stand construction/deconstruction that accompanies the tournament. But the atmosphere at The Byron has always been quite festive, and the golf remarkable. Plus there was always the opportunity of a chance encounter with Ernie Els, Angel Cabrera, or Paulina Gretsky.

It will be missed.

After months of conjecture and near-misses, it appears that Tiger Woods will finally make his return at his Hero Challenge in the Bahamas, a very limited field event (20 players) that doesn’t count as an official PGA Tour event but somehow counts in the World Golf Rankings. When Tiger began his layoff in late 2015, his ranking was 247; it’s now somewhere in the 800’s. Golf writer Jason Sobel wanted to know how such a fall could occur while The Big Cat wasn’t playing; my response to him was that either position was not particularly desirable. [To his credit, Tiger, when asked by one reporter what his expectations were for the season, joked that if he could be in the top 1,000 in the world rankings, he’d be happy].

In a year that’s seen a US Ryder Cup victory, a number of notable celebrity deaths and a political campaign that has gone beyond surreal, I am not even going to hazard a guess as to how Woods performs this week. He did proclaim that he can now hit “any shot, any time on demand,” which hopefully translates to him being able to find the fairway off the tee more consistently. I’ll leave it to Peter Kostis or Gary McCord to analyze his swing changes; to my relatively untrained eye, he seems to have come up with a move that puts less stress on his back.

I wish him well. That may come as a surprise to some who know my past feelings about him, but he seems to have developed some perspective during his layoff. Last year at this time, he spoke of being “vulnerable,” something that most folks would have never expected from such a dominant figure. I think his involvement as a vice-captain in the Ryder Cup was well-received by the US team, and he’s already been tapped for a similar role for the Presidents Cup next year.

But please, please, please – let’s temper our expectations. This will not be Tiger circa 2007. He will no longer show up on Sunday wearing red and scaring the shit out of the competition. He won’t make every putt inside of 6 feet when it matters the most. And he won’t catch Jack Nicklaus’s major championship record.

Then again, I never thought Donald Trump would be elected President of the United States. Stay tuned.